On Saturday the 19th, a group of Year 11 pupils visited the Playhouse Theatre, London, to watch Stephen Daldry's production of An Inspector Calls. Some of us are studying J.B Priestley's famous play for our English GCSE so I thought this would be a great opportunity to look at a somewhat different interpretation.
Straight away, the Inspector shone a harsh light on any of our presumptions and turned them on their head. Almost immediately, I could hear murmurs of 'What's going on' or 'Who are they?' This was almost always in reference to the interesting use of silent characters used during the production, usually to show the contrast between the richest and poorest in society, which was a common topic throughout. Most notably, the play began with a young child running on stage with a torch, almost saying: ‘We will shine a light on everyone and everything here in order to see the truth.’
The production is known for conveying Priestley’s views on class, community and social responsibility. I believe this was clearly portrayed through the use of sound and tension. For example, certain iconic lines from the play, such as, ‘It’s better to ask for the earth than to take it’ or ‘If there’s nothing else, we’ll have to share our guilt’, were promptly followed by a long pause or a sound effect to highlight a significant moment. For me, Priestley’s message that we all have to take responsibility for others and that it is not ‘every man for himself’ was a clear one and something I’m certain the audience would take away with them.
Despite this, my favourite part of the show, by far, was the fantastic use of staging. The play began with the Birlings’ house being elevated and enclosed, so the audience could only catch glimpses of the family. However, as the Inspector ‘arrived’ and started to unpick the family’s secrets, the house opened to reveal a wider stage. This was, of course, to show the idea that the family were not going to be allowed isolation and enclosure, and that their house, as well as the truth, would be revealed. In addition to this, each character had to walk down from the house to the stage floor when answering the Inspector’s questions, to show that their high status and class was irrelevant and they would have to come down to the same level as every other man and woman in society. I thought this was a subtle yet mightily effective touch.
However, my favourite part of the show was nearer the end. As soon as the all of characters had been questioned and their stories inevitably scrutinised, their house sharply tilted and all of their possessions and furniture came crashing down – plates smashed, sparks came from the light bulbs and table collapsed. This vividly highlighted how the family, much like their ‘house’, were now broken. But this incredible use of staging did not end there. As the characters discovered that there was no Inspector and the girl’s suicide was lie, the house moved back into its original shape and the doors closed, once again showing that the family wanted to go back to ‘normal’, with them being isolated and away from everyone else.
Even though there were some fantastic moments to the production (some of the best I had ever seen), I thought that there were some rather weak areas. This might be because, after having studied it in class and having watched other interpretations, I might have had certain expectations of the characters. For instance, I believe that the character Sheila, the daughter who blames herself for the death of Eva Smith (the girl who committed suicide and who the play is based around), is meant to come across as a panicked and somewhat ‘hysterical’ character who truly regrets what she has done. For me, this was not shown enough. The Inspector’s last bold speech – a speech almost designed to power home the message of the entire play, was, in my view, not the final knockout punch it should have been. I would have liked to see the Inspector perhaps get more frustrated or angry, something we had seen him do earlier on, as well as have some more overall emotion. I can understand why this speech was delivered how it was; I just would have preferred it to be slightly more dramatic.
Despite this, I thought that Daldry’s production was excellent – the original message, a vital part of the play, was clearly conveyed throughout. As I mentioned previously, it was very different to how we would have imagined, but I did enjoy it hugely. I would urge anyone studying An Inspector Calls to watch the production as it will guarantee you a different and fresh insight.